Asian Literature

There is a wide array of ideals to emulate in Asian literature, from India’s passive resistance and nonviolent protest, China’s Yin and Yang, to Japan’s concept of ephemeral beauty.  Asian literature holds some of the finest and notable works of literature – Bhagavad Gita, Tao Te Ching, Tale of Genji – these works carried the country’s own distinct ideals and customs.  From these three major countries, I learned a lot how their religion and their ways of lives affect the modern countries that they are today.

India, one of the oldest countries of the world, the cradle of the ancient Indus civilization, is rich and diverse in terms of culture and religion.  It is known for its devotion to the discipline of the senses, the eradication of worldly pleasures for spiritual purification, and core idea and passionate commitment to fight against moral violence.  The Bhagavad Gita, known as the Upanishad of all Upanishads, holds many of India’s philosophy that is widely known in the world – the creed of nonviolence, heartfelt devotion to public service and the moral battle to righteousness.  I am particularly impressed with the greatest Indian leader and reformer Mahatma Gandhi who once practiced the philosophy of it.  And also he inspired and influenced some of the greatest political thinkers and reformists like Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela later on.  In our country, the idea of nonviolence can be seen in the 1986 EDSA Revolution, where a bloodless revolution eradicated Marcos’ aristocratic leadership, granting the country its freedom from dictatorship.

Bhagavad Gita is my personal favorite Indian work; it encapsulates all Indian philosophy in a nutshell, an all-in-one credo to attain enlightenment.  It is universal and complete, literature and philosophy combined.  Some of the Indian works of literature are hard to read and analyze like the ancient epic Mahabharata but most of them concerns with the idea of the attainment of supreme enlightenment, a typical Hinduism thought that influence China and Japan’s

Bhagavad Gita

Bhagavad Gita


Literature and religion in China is heavily influenced by Indian philosophy.  Along with Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhism, the Buddhist religion first originated in India but deeply stemmed out and flourished in the neighboring China, and eventually to Japan.  Chinese literature is known for its simple and profound verses about nature, the silences and the wisdom of the images used in the ancient songs, verses and hymns, and the rough and fresh ideas and images in the works of Tu Fu, Li Po Wang Wei and Po Chui, inspired by Taoism, Buddhism, and Zen in nature.  The founding principles of Chinese philosophy can be seen in the works of The Analects by Confucius and Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu.  Both works and considered pillars of thought in Confucianism and Taoism – two of the greatest philosophical schools of thought in China.  I also like the Chinese symmetrical relationship of the Yin and Yang: that one cannot exist without the other.  For me it deeply emphasizes the harmony between two different things in the physical universe as well as the harmony of the mind and the body.

The Chinese poems are simple yet powerful short verses; they are concentrated with vivid images that evoke emotions of solitude, joy and wishful thinking.  I love the poems of Chu-i Po: the sadness and the melancholy in his poems are melodies of profound human experiences: losing a loved one, missing one’s own brothers and sisters, and the experience of being lonesome.

nature in Japanese poetry

nature in Japanese poetry

Japanese poetry has a lot in common with Chinese poetry, since the latter influenced the former.  And so, Japanese poetry are also imagistic, full of pathos, and their poetry uses the images in nature to express the emotions.  Although Japanese and Chinese poetry are fond of using nature as a metaphor (akin to TS Eliot’s objective-correlative concept) I think that Japanese poetry is much more intimate and personal.  There is also more restraint in the expression of emotion.  Japanese poems, usually short ones, are also easy to understand, sentimental, and reads almost like a diary entry.  The concept of the impermanence of life, the interplay of permanence and transience, and finding beauty in ephemeral things are just few of the themes one may find in Japanese poetry.  Usually, poems like these use the images of the cherry blossoms, the passing seasons, or even the moon.  Generally I like all Japanese poems discussed in class because they contain in them tantalizing and brief images of seasons and their associative emotions.  Like the passing of seasons, there is a certain kind of brief flashes of experiences that reverberates in the minds of the readers.  Japanese literature is more sensitive to the moods: they can clearly hear the sounds of insects and birds and they always emphasize the ever-changing nature.  Perhaps what I like about their literature is the recurrent concern of identity, self-awareness of beauty and the affecting isolation in the moments of pathos.  These themes are major constitutes to the Japanese aesthetics, powerful and rich, and different to the Western’s ideas.

Japanese literature is as rich as Chinese literature, from which they are intensely influenced – from the royal dynasties, art of writing, and religious philosophy.  Japanese culture really interests me a lot:  from the early novels like The Tale of Genji, the concept of Japanese theater, to the beautiful and exotic geishas. Every work of literature depicts clearly the Japanese life; the Tale of Genji for instance, vividly portrays the aristocratic Heian court of life.  The samurai is also a famous Japanese cultural feature:  loyalty and honor to their overlord are strictly practiced; there is supremacy of political over personal considerations.

Equally interesting are also the Japanese concept of theater, which includes the famous ones like Noh, Kabuki and even the Puppet Theater.  These three kinds of theater project that kind of sophistication based on the art of movement through disciplined speech, gesture, dance and body of the actors.  I also learned that geishas are not courtesans, that their ways are governed by the art of entertainment and pleasure.

I have been exposed to Western ideas, culture and literature – the hegemonic concepts in general – and it is truly satisfying to find a different approach in aesthetics and philosophy in Asian literature.  If the Western culture believes in the eternal beauty of art and the things in general, I find the Asian culture (particularly Chinese and Japanese culture) concepts different because they find that the ephemeral quality in things more beautiful, therefore, they must be cherished and appreciated more.  Some of the famous concepts in the Western world are already present in the works of Asian literature, even much before, just like the concept of TS Eliot’s objective-correlative in the works of early Japanese poetry, post-modernist style in the Indian play Shakuntala and the all-knowing and shifting narrator and the free indirect style of narrative in some of the Tang stories discussed in class.  It means that Asian literature is never far behind the Western culture.  They should be appreciated more because Asian culture and literature is much closer to our own understanding, and it is ours.